This summer we found ourselves needing to hike despite lingering snow on the big peaks. We are training to summit California’s Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental United States. This brought us to Mount Timpanogos’ wart Big Baldy. Mount Baldy is a very accessible hike in Utah County, and it is a great day hike for someone wanting to escape Utah County crowds.
Fun fact for those who appreciate Geology: Big Baldy was once a matching part of Timpanogos. Due to the steepness of the mountain and fancy phrases like the angle of repose, a normal fault formed. Big Baldy literally slid down Mount Timpanogos!
The Big Baldy hike can begin at one of two trailheads.
Each trailhead is easily accessible by my Honda Civic that struggles to go up-hill on the highway. The Battle Creek Canyon Trailhead is a gravel road. My hiking experience is from the Dry Canyon access. It took us about 5 hours to do the hike.
I would not have thought it was kid friendly, but I was one of the few. We crossed paths with quite a few families and hiking children. I just forget how hardy kids are. They also have way more energy than me. An afternoon in the sun has me wishing for a nap.
While there were a surprising number of trails for Big Baldy that split off at Dry Canyon, there were 2 main trails. My favorite (and most family friendly option) wraps around the eastern side of the mountain and gives an excellent view of Timpanogos on the way up. The second way is to go up the south-western facing slope. That is the slope that is visible from Utah County. I went up the one on the eastern side, and down the south western side. If you want the variety I recommend the opposite: up the south-west side and down the eastern side. I will describe both options later on.
We learned that this small mountain is called Big Baldy for a reason. The south western trail gave us direct sun. This is due to the fact that the plants are nothing more than sparse bushes and some wildflowers (this was in May). For that reason this trail is a great morning hike. It can be hiked in the day/evening, but there will be lots and lots of direct sun.
Starting out there is one big trail. It is surprisingly steep with some very large stairs just yards away from the parking area. The stairs don’t last too long and pretty soon it flattens out. It still goes up just not as steeply.
Eventually the trail brings the hikers in between two beautiful limestone cliffs. If you look close enough you may find some climbers defying gravity! While it sounded like there was a super beehive, it turned out to just be a drone taking footage of the climber.
Before the cliff starts and after it ends there appears to be a trail that goes up and around the cliff. I can promise that there is no need to go up there. Just go straight in-between the cliffs. However, I am very tempted to see what is there. At the time I couldn’t handle the disappointment if the trail dead ended. Now I am just curious. 🙂
Not too much further down the trail there is a sign. Because it is a really helpful sign it mentions nothing about the Big Baldy hike. At the sign the trail splits, but keep straight. I would estimate about 100 yards after the sign the trail splits again. The two splits look very well traveled, and it is hard to use how well traveled it is to determine where to go.
For Big Baldy turn left. This trail starts switch backing up Big Baldy. Going straight is really tempting. This was actually my second attempt to summit Big Baldy because I decided to go straight the first time (thanks helpful sign! You really helped me out big time there).
From there it is pretty easy to follow the main trail. For the most part hang right, but take the trail most traveled. There comes a time where the path could go right or left. The left option looks more like a path, but the right option is more dug out. Don’t let that be confusing. It is the path! Go right for the gentler side (that’s what I did), or go left for the steep side.
The rest of the trail looks like it is not steep, but don’t worry because it feels steep. The good news is that there are some trees that start poking out. This means that we finally found some shade!
Eventually the trail opens out of the trees (they are still to the left), and there is a meadow with those cool stair things that were dug into the side of the mountain. When I say meadow, I mean lack of trees (not flat).
From there keep heading up towards the saddle. The saddle is pretty easy to recognize fo two reasons. The most obvious one is that it is on a ridge, so you can view both sides of the mountain. The second is a fire pit exactly on that ridge. Turn left at the fire pit and start following the ridge to the actual summit.
Once at the summit there is an excellent view of Utah county, and an even better view of Timpanogos.
On the way down we took the southwestern facing trail. This was tempting because it seemed shorter and it was something different to try. Also, we were curious what it was like. This trail is well traveled enough that we were able to easily find it. It continues from the summit by following the ridge line in the opposite way we just came from.
The ridges can be pretty steep, but not as steep as the main trail. This trail was so steep that I was often flat on my butt. I quickly grew annoyed with this trail as I was on my butt way more than I wanted to be.
Towards the bottom a surplus of trails opened up. It was not uncommon for us to pull out our phone to look at the gps locations and satellite map. Somehow the mess of trails we took connected us to the that bigger river dug out. From the fork, it just took about 10 minutes to get back to the main trail, and another few minutes to get back to that unhelpful sign.
From the unhelpful sign, aim for the limestone cliffs to get back to the parking lot. Once back in-between the cliffs, the path is nice and straight forward. Keep following it to get back to the car.
If you desire variation in the trail by taking a loop, I really recommend going up the south-western side, and down the eastern side. It’s so much easier to go up steep than to go down steep. However, I’m debating if the shorter distance is worth the effort and direct sun.
Overall it is a hike I am glad to have knocked off my list. Going down the south-western side left a bad taste. I’m not positive I will do it again willingly. 😉